Sunday 26 October 2008

Toronto After Dark 2008 - "Red"

Of all the trailers I watched for films at this year's festival, the one for Lucky McKee and Trygve Allister Diesen's revenge thriller "Red" looked to be the most by the numbers and one of the least interesting. Nothing overly wrong with it, but it looked a bit like a cable movie with a straight line through the standard stops of a revenge plot. I'm sure several people wondered why this was even playing at the festival. I suppose one could still quibble about whether it fit into the lineup or not, but it's a surprisingly solid little film boosted by a tremendous simmering performance by Bryan Cox and I'm extremely glad I saw it.

While fishing one day, old-timer Avery encounters three teenagers who've been hunting in the woods. Their leader Danny is poking fun at the old man until Avery gets a return dig into him. Danny's uncontrollable anger builds up and he shoots and kills the old man's long time companion - his 14 year old dog named Red. Avery tries to get the boys to admit what they have done, but gets blocked down each and every avenue by Danny's powerful and rich father. Desperate for some kind of justice, Avery can't let go and keeps pushing the stakes higher.

Tension is built up and sustained quite well by the directing duo through all the expected scenes. Little touches like the colour red popping up in the background every so often gives us further indication of Avery's state of mind. He's unable to see the damage that might occur if he keeps pressing and gets to the point where he loses sight of any actual justice. Cox shines as his character - even though he can barely control his anger, he still manages to garner a great deal of empathy and even had many audience members applauding when he chalked up a few small wins by getting under Danny's skin. Of course it helps when the rest of the cast are excellent as well: Noel Fisher captures the obviously emotionally disturbed Danny; Tom Sizemore is the power hungry father; Kyle Gallner is the younger brother Harold who wants to do the right thing and come clean about the incident. The one instance of a less than bright light would probably be Kim Dickens as reporter Carrie Donnel - not necessarily because she performs badly, but simply because her character feels like a plot device to allow Avery to explain his actions via the telling of his family's history (however there's one particular single long take of Cox relating his tale that should be right up there with the better acting moments of the year).

It's actually quite remarkable that the film doesn't feel that it has that many slow sections. If some of the situations, in particular the final confrontation, tumble out of control perhaps a bit too quickly, it's all in service of the character moments. And there are plenty of them and they are very much worth it.

The programmers of the Canada After Dark series (which precedes each film) have been very sharp in slating shorts that complement their features. In this case, they chose the amusing "Vengeance", a tale of the disservice done to a young woman by a magical crab and her chance meeting with it again. It's worth seeing if only for the little magical wand held by the crab...

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